Did bin Laden’s Burial at Sea Follow Muslim Law?

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Was bin Laden’s burial religiously appropriate? And what’s in store for bin Laden’s afterlife? An expert weighs in.

Vanderbilt professor and Islam expert Leor Halevi answered questions on what the funeral means for the world’s most famous terrorist in the afterlife.

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout)

On May 2, less than 24 hours after his death, Osama bin Laden’s body was placed on a flat board and eased into the North Arabian Sea. Before being slid overboard the USS Carl Vinson, his body was washed and wrapped in white sheets in a 40-minute long traditional ceremony, while a Muslim officer read prayers for his soul.

The burial at sea might be unorthodox, but it’s not unheard of, says Halevi, an associate professor of history at Vanderbilt. What was stranger was that he was granted the funeral ceremony reserved for the passing of ordinary Muslims under ordinary circumstances. Bin Laden was hardly ordinary and most would agree he died in extraordinary circumstances. Some would even argue he died in battle. (Though this one’s up for debate – reports say he was unarmed.) The rituals for those who died in battle according to Halevi are different; they don’t require the person be buried in a shroud or someone to say a prayer. And from what Halevi can see, the U.S. did not try to humiliate bin Laden in death.

For those of you wondering if bin Laden’s spirit is in fact in hell, as the cover of the New York Daily News suggests, Halevi says it all depends on what type of death you think he died. Halevi says for those who believe he died a martyr, the state of his body doesn’t matter. The moment martyrs die, they’re given new bodies in paradise and enjoy a blessed existence. And it’s not just through death on the battlefield that Muslims can gain the status of martyrdom. People who die in terrible ways, for instance in childbirth or in a building collapse, will also get new bodies in paradise. However, the spirits of Muslims who die an ordinary death, Halevi says, are more or less stuck with their bodies until resurrection. And while it’s not so bad an experience if they’re sinless, but if they’ve committed sins, this is where the state of their bodies matters. They’re punished by what’s called the torture of the grave — meaning they keep their bodies, in full decomposing glory. As for those 72 Virgins. If you think he’s a martyr, well that’s a given. (via Digital Dying)

(More on TIME.com: See pictures of Osama bin Laden)

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